Carolyn Wells

THE DIAMOND PIN

(Murder Mystery)
Fleming Stone Series
e-artnow, 2016
Contact: info@e-artnow.org
ISBN 978-80-268-6996-2
 

Table of Contents

I. A Certain Date
II. The Locked Room
III. The Evidence of the Checkbook
IV. Timken and His Inquiries
V. Downing's Evidence
VI. Lucille
VII. The Case Against Bannard
VIII. Rodney Pollock Appears
IX. Iris in Danger
X. Flossie
XI. Gone Again!
XII. In Chicago
XIII. Fleming Stone Comes
XIV. Fibsy and Sam
XV. In the Colole
XVI. Kidnapped Again
XVII. The Cipher
XVIII. Solution at Last

Chapter I.
A Certain Date

Table of Contents

"Well, go to church then, and I hope to goodness you'll come back in a more spiritual frame of mind! Though how you can feel spiritual in that flibbertigibbet dress is more than I know! An actress, indeed! No mummers' masks have ever blotted the scutcheon of my family tree. The Clydes were decent, God-fearing people, and I don't propose, Miss, that you shall disgrace the name."

Ursula Pell shook her good-looking gray head and glowered at her pretty niece, who was getting into a comfortable though not elaborate motor car.

"I know you didn't propose it, Aunt Ursula," returned the smiling girl, "I thought up the scheme myself, and I decline to let you have credit of its origin."

"Discredit, you mean," and Mrs. Pell sniffed haughtily. "Here's some money for the contribution plate. Iris; see that you put it in, and don't appropriate it yourself."

The slender, aristocratic old hand, half covered by a falling lace frill, dropped a coin into Iris' out-held palm, and the girl perceived it was one cent.

She looked at her aunt in amazement, for Mrs. Pell was a millionaire; then, thinking better of her impulse to voice an indignant protest, Iris got into the car. Immediately, she saw a dollar bill on the seat beside her and she knew that was for the contribution plate, and the penny was a joke of her aunt's.

For Ursula Pell had a queer twist in her fertile old brain that made her enjoy the temporary discomfiture of her friends, whenever she was able to bring it about. To see anyone chagrined, nonplused, or made suddenly to feel ridiculous, was to Mrs. Pell an occasion of sheer delight.

To do her justice, her whimsical tricks usually ended in the gratification of the victim in some way, as now, when Iris, thinking her aunt had given her a penny for the collection, found the dollar ready for that worthy cause. But such things are irritating, and were particularly so to Iris Clyde, whose sense of humor was of a different trend.

In fact, Iris' whole nature was different from her aunt's, and therein lay most of the difficulties of their living together. For there were difficulties. The erratic, emphatic, dogmatic old lady could not sympathize with the high-strung, high-spirited young girl, and as a result there was more friction than should be in any well-regulated family.

And Mrs. Pell had a decided penchant for practical jokes—than which there is nothing more abominable. But members of Mrs. Pell's household put up with these because if they didn't they automatically ceased to be members of Mrs. Pell's household.

One member had made this change. A nephew, Winston Bannard, had resented his aunt's gift of a trick cigar, which blew up and sent fine sawdust into his eyes and nose, and her follow-up of a box of Perfectos was insufficient to keep him longer in the uncertain atmosphere of her otherwise pleasant country home.

And now, Iris Clyde had announced her intention of leaving the old roof also. Her pretext was that she wanted to become an actress, and that was true, but had Mrs Pell been more companionable and easy to live with, Iris would have curbed her histrionic ambitions. Nor is it beyond the possibilities that Iris chose the despised profession, because she knew it would enrage her aunt to think of a Clyde going into the depths of ignominy which the stage represented to Mrs. Pell.

For Iris Clyde at twenty-two had quite as strong a will and inflexible a determination as her aunt at sixty-two, and though they oftenest ran parallel, yet when they criss-crossed, neither was ready to yield the fraction of a point for the sake of peace in the family.

And it was after one of their most heated discussions, after a duel of words that flicked with sarcasm and rasped with innuendo, that Iris, cool and pretty in her summer costume, started for church, leaving Mrs. Pell, irate and still nervously quivering from her own angry tirade.

Iris smiled and waved the bill at her aunt as the car started, and then suddenly looked aghast and leaned over the side of the car as if she had dropped the dollar. But the car sped on, and Iris waved frantically, pointing to the spot where she had seemed to drop the bill, and motioning her aunt to go out there and get it.

This Mrs. Pell promptly did, only to be rewarded by a ringing laugh from Iris and a wave of the bill in the girl's hand, as the car slid through the gates and out of sight.

"Silly thing!" grumbled Ursula Pell, returning to the piazza where she had been sitting. But she smiled at the way her niece had paid her back in her own coin, if a dollar bill can be considered coin.

This, then, was the way the members of the Pell household were expected to conduct themselves. Nor was it only the family, but the servants also were frequent butts for the misplaced hilarity of their mistress.

One cook left because of a tiny mouse imprisoned in her workbasket; one first-class gardener couldn't stand a scarecrow made in a ridiculous caricature of himself; and one small scullery maid objected to unexpected and startling "Boos!" from dark corners.

But servants could always be replaced, and so, for that matter, could relatives, for Mrs. Pell had many kinsfolk, and her wealth would prove a strong magnet to most of them.

Indeed, as outsiders often exclaimed, why mind a harmless joke now and then? Which was all very well—for the outsiders. But it is far from pleasant to live in continual expectation of salt in one's tea or cotton in one's croquettes.

So Winston had picked up his law books and sought refuge in New York City and Iris, after a year's further endurance, was thinking seriously of following suit.

And yet, Ursula Pell was most kind, generous and indulgent. Iris had been with her for ten years, and as a child or a very young girl, she had not minded her aunt's idiosyncrasy, had, indeed, rather enjoyed the foolish tricks. But, of late, they had bored her, and their constant recurrence so wore on her nerves that she wanted to go away and order her life for herself. The stage attracted her, though not insistently. She planned to live in bachelor apartments with a girl chum who was an artist, and hoped to find congenial occupation of some kind. She rather harped on the actress proposition because it so thoroughly annoyed her aunt, and matters between them had now come to such a pass, that they teased each other in any and every way possible. This was entirely Mrs. Pell's fault, for if she hadn't had her peculiar trait of practical joking, Iris never would have dreamed of teasing her.

On the whole, they were good friends, and often a few days would pass in perfect harmony by reason of Ursula not being moved by her imp of the perverse to cut up any silly prank. Then, Iris would drink from a glass of water, to find it had been tinctured with asafetida, or brush her hair and then learn that some drops of glue had been put on the bristles of her hairbrush.

Anger or sulks at these performances were just what Mrs. Pell wanted, so Iris roared with laughter and pretended to think it all very funny, whereupon Mrs. Pell did the sulking, and Iris scored.

So it was not, perhaps, surprising that the girl concluded to leave her aunt's home and shift for herself. It would, she knew, probably mean disinheritance; but after all money is not everything, and as the old lady grew older, her pranks became more and more an intolerable nuisance.

And Iris wanted to go out into the world and meet people. The neighbors in the small town of Berrien, where they lived, were uninteresting, and there were few visitors from the outside world. Though less than fifteen miles from New York, Iris rarely invited her friends to visit her because of the probability that her aunt would play some absurd trick on them. This had happened so many times, even though Mrs. Pell had promised that it should not occur, that Iris had resolved never to try it again.

The best friends and advisers of the girl were Mr. Bowen, the rector, and his wife. The two were also friends of Mrs. Pell, and perhaps out of respect for his cloth, the old lady never played tricks on the Bowens. It was their habit to dine every Sunday at Pellbrook, and the occasion was always the pleasantest of the whole week.

The farm was a large one, about a mile from the village, and included old-fashioned orchards and hayfields as well as more modern greenhouses and gardens. There was a lovely brook, a sunny slope of hillside, and a delightful grove of maples, and added to these a long-distance view of hazy hills that made Pellbrook one of the most attractive country places for many miles around.

Ursula Pell sat on her verandah quite contentedly gazing over the landscape and thinking about her multitudinous affairs.

"I s'pose I oughtn't to tease that child," she thought, smiling at the recollection; "I don't know what I'd do, if she should leave me! Win went, but, land! you can't keep a young man down! A girl, now, 's different. I guess I'll take Iris to New York next winter and let her have a little fling. I'll pretend I'm going alone, and leave her here to keep the house, and then I'll take her too! She'll be so surprised!"

The old lady's eyes twinkled and she fairly reveled in the joke she would play on her niece. And, not to do her an injustice, she meant no harm. She really thought only of the girl's glad surprise at learning she was to go, and gave no heed to the misery that might be caused by the previous disappointment.

A woman came out from the house to ask directions for dinner.

"Yes, Polly," said Ursula Pell, "the Bowens will dine here as usual. Dinner at one-thirty, sharp, as the rector has to leave at three, to attend some meeting or other. Pity they had to have it on Sunday."

There was some discussion of the menu and then Polly, the old cook, shuffled away, and again Ursula Pell sat alone.

"An actress!" she ruminated, "my little Iris an actress! Well, I guess not! But I can persuade her out of that foolishness, I'll bet! Why, if I can't do it any other way, I'll take her traveling,—I'll—why, I'll give her her inheritance now, and let her amuse herself being an heiress before I'm dead and gone. Why should I wait for that, any way? Suppose I give her the pin at once—I'd do it to-day, I believe, while the notion's on me, if I only had it here. I can get it from Mr. Chapin in a few days, and then—well, then, Iris would have something to interest her! I wonder how she'd like a whole king's ransom of jewels! She's like a princess herself. And, then, too, that girl ought to marry, and marry well. I suppose I ought to have been thinking about this before. I must talk to the Bowens—of course, there's no one in Berrien—I did think one time Win might fall in love with her, but then he went away, and now he never comes up here any more. I wonder if Iris cares especially for Win. She never says anything about him, but that's no sign, one way or the other. I'd like her to marry Roger Downing, but she snubs him unmercifully. And he is a little countrified. With Iris' beauty and the fortune I shall leave her, she could marry anybody on earth! I believe I'll take her traveling a bit, say, to California, and then spend the winter in New York and give the girl a chance. And I must quit teasing her. But I do love to see that surprised look when I play some outlandish trick on her!"

The old lady's eyes assumed a vixenish expression and her smile widened till it was a sly, almost diabolical grin. Quite evidently she was even then planning some new and particularly disagreeable joke on Iris.

At length she rose and went into the house to write in her diary. Ursula Pell was of most methodical habits, and a daily journal was regularly kept.

The main part of the house was four square, a wide hall running straight through the center, with doors front and back. On the left, as one entered, the big living room was in front, and behind it a smaller sitting room, which was Mrs. Pell's own. Not that anyone was unwelcome there, but it held many of her treasures and individual belongings, and served as her study or office, for the transaction of the various business matters in which she was involved. Frequently her lawyer was closeted with her here for long confabs, for Ursula Pell was greatly given to the pleasurable entertainment of changing her will.

She had made more wills than Lawyer Chapin could count, and each in turn was duly drawn up and witnessed and the previous one destroyed. Her diary usually served to record the changes she proposed making, and when the time was ripe for a new will, the diary was requisitioned for direction as to the testamentary document.

The wealth of Ursula Pell was enormous, far more so than one would suppose from the simplicity of her household appointments. This was not due to miserliness, but to her simple tastes and her frugal early life. Her fortune was the bequest of her husband, who, now dead more than twenty years, had amassed a great deal of money which he had invested almost entirely in precious stones. It was his theory and belief that stocks and bonds were uncertain, whereas gems were always valuable. His collection included some world-famous diamonds and rubies, and a set of emeralds that were historic.

But nobody, save Ursula Pell herself, knew where these stones were. Whether in safe deposit or hidden on her own property, she had never given so much as a hint to her family or her lawyer. James Chapin knew his eccentric old client better than to inquire concerning the whereabouts of her treasure, and made and remade the wills disposing of it, without comment. A few of the smaller gems Mrs. Pell had given to Iris and to young Bannard, and some, smaller still, to more distant relatives; but the bulk of the collection had never been seen by the present generation.

She often told Iris that it should all be hers eventually, but Iris didn't seriously bank on the promise, for she knew her erratic aunt might quite conceivably will the jewels to some distant cousin, in a moment of pique at her niece.

For Iris was not diplomatic. Never had she catered to her aunt's whims or wishes with a selfish motive. She honestly tried to live peaceably with Mrs. Pell, but of late she had begun to believe that impossible, and was planning to go away.

As usual on Sunday morning, Ursula Pell had her house to herself.

Her modest establishment consisted of only four servants, who engaged additional help as their duties required. Purdy, the old gardener, was the husband of Polly, the cook; Agnes, the waitress, also served as ladies' maid when occasion called for it. Campbell, the chauffeur, completed the ménage, and all other workers, and there were a good many, were employed by the day, and did not live at Pellbrook.

Mrs. Pell rarely went to church, and on Sunday mornings Campbell took Iris to the village. Agnes accompanied them, as she, too, attended the Episcopal service.

Purdy and his wife drove an old horse and still older buckboard to a small church nearby, which better suited their type of piety.

Polly was a marvel of efficiency and managed cleverly to go to meeting without in any way delaying or interfering with her preparations for the Sunday dinner. Indeed, Ursula Pell would have no one around her who was not efficient. Waste and waste motion were equally taboo in that household.

The mistress of the place made her customary round of the kitchen quarters, and, finding everything in its usual satisfactory condition, returned to her own sitting room, and took her diary from her desk.

At half-past twelve the Purdys returned, and at one o'clock the motor car brought its load from the village.

"Well, well, Mr. Bowen, how do you do?" the hostess greeted them as they arrived. "And dear Mrs. Bowen, come right in and lay off your bonnet."

The wide hall, with its tables, chairs and mirrors offered ample accommodations for hats and wraps, and soon the party were seated on the front part of the broad verandah that encircled three sides of the house.

Mr. Bowen was stout and jolly and his slim shadow of a wife acted as a sort of Greek chorus, agreeing with and echoing his remarks and opinions.

Conversation was in a gay and bantering key, and Mrs. Pell was in high good humor. Indeed, she seemed nervously excited and a little hysterical, but this was not entirely unusual, and her guests fitted their mood to hers.

A chance remark led to mention of Mrs. Pell's great fortune of jewels, and Mr. Bowen declared that he fully expected she would bequeath them all to his church to be made into a wonderful chalice.

"Not a bad idea," exclaimed Ursula Pell; "and one I've never thought of! I'll get Mr. Chapin over here to-morrow to change my will."

"Who will be the loser?" asked the rector. "To whom are they willed at present?"

"That's telling," and Mrs. Pell smiled mysteriously.

"Don't forget you've promised me the wonderful diamond pin, auntie," said Iris, bristling up a little.

"What diamond pin?" asked Mrs. Bowen, curiously.

"Oh, for years, Aunt Ursula has promised me a marvelous diamond pin, the most valuable of her whole collection—haven't you, auntie?"

"Yes, Iris," and Mrs. Pell nodded her head, "that pin is certainly the most valuable thing I possess."

"It must be a marvel, then," said Mr. Bowen, his eyes opening wide, "for I've heard great tales of the Pell collection. I thought they were all unset jewels."

"Most of them are," Mrs. Pell spoke carelessly, "but the pin I shall leave to Iris——"

At that moment dinner was announced, and the group went to the dining room. This large and pleasant room was in front on the right, and back of it were the pantries and kitchens. A long rear extension provided the servants' quarters, which were numerous and roomy. The house was comfortable rather than pretentious, and though the village folk wondered why so rich a woman continued to live in such an old-fashioned home, those who knew her well realized that the place exactly met Ursula Pell's requirements.

The dinner was in harmony with the atmosphere of the home. Plentiful, well-cooked food there was, but no attempt at elaborate confections or any great formality of service.

One concession to modernity was a small dish of stuffed dates at each cover, and of these Mrs. Pell spoke in scornful tones.

"Some of Iris' foolishness," she observed. "She wants all sorts of knick-knacks that she considers stylish!"

"I don't at all, auntie," denied the girl, flushing with annoyance, "but when you ate those dates at Mrs. Graham's the other day, you enjoyed them so much I thought I'd make some. She gave me her recipe, and I think they're very nice."

"I do, too," agreed Mrs. Bowen, eating a date appreciatively, and feeling sorry for Iris' discomfiture. For though many girls might not mind such disapproval, Iris was of a sensitive nature, and cringed beneath her aunt's sharp words.

In an endeavor to cover her embarrassment, she picked up a date from her own portion and bit off the end.

From the fruit spurted a stream of jet black ink, which stained Iris' lips, offended her palate, and spilling on her pretty white frock, utterly ruined the dainty chiffon and lace.

She comprehended instantly. Her aunt, to annoy her, had managed to conceal ink in one of the dates, and place it where Iris would naturally pick it up first.

With an angry exclamation the girl left the table and ran upstairs.

Chapter II.
The Locked Room

Table of Contents

Ursula Pell leaned back in her chair and shrieked with laughter.

"She will have stuffed dates and fancy fixin's, will she?" she cried; "I just guess she's had enough of those fallals now!"

"It quite spoiled her pretty frock," said Mrs. Bowen, timidly remonstrant.

"That's nothing, I'll buy her another. Oh, I did that pretty cleverly, I can tell you! I took a little capsule, a long, thin one, and I filled it with ink, just as you'd fill a fountain pen. Oh, oh! Iris was so mad! She never suspected at all; and she bit into that date—oh! oh! wasn't it funny!"

"I don't think it was," began Mrs. Bowen, but her husband lifted his eyebrows at her, and she said no more.

Though a clergyman, Alexander Bowen was not above mercenary impulses, and the mere reference, whether it had been meant or not, to a jeweled chalice made him unwilling to disapprove of anything such an influential hostess might do or say.

"Iris owes so much to her aunt," the rector said smilingly, "of course she takes such little jests in good part."

"She'd better," and Ursula Pell nodded her head; "if she knows which side her bread is buttered, she'll kiss the hand that strikes her."

"If it doesn't strike too hard," put in Mrs. Bowen, unable to resist some slight comment.

But again her husband frowned at her to keep silent, and the subject was dropped.

It was fully a quarter of an hour before Iris returned, her face red from scrubbing and still showing dark traces of the ink on chin and cheek. She wore a plain little frock of white dimity, and smiled as she resumed her seat at the table.

"Now, Aunt Ursula," she said, "if you've any more ink to spill, spill it on this dress, and not on one of my best ones."

"Fiddlestrings, Iris, I'll give you a new dress—I'll give you two. It was well worth it, to see you bite into that date! My! you looked so funny! And you look funny yet! There's ink marks all over your face!"

Mrs. Pell shook with most irritating laughter, and Iris flushed with annoyance.

"I know it, auntie; but I couldn't get them off."

"Never mind, it'll wear off in a few days. And meantime, you can wrap it up in a blotter!"

Again the speaker chuckled heartily at her own wit, and the rector joined her, while Mrs. Bowen with difficulty achieved a smile.

She was sorry for Iris, for this sort of jesting offended the girl more than it would most people, and the kind-hearted woman knew it. But, afraid of her husband's disapproval, she said nothing, and smiled, at his unspoken behest.

Nor was Iris herself entirely forgiving. One could easily see that her calmly pleasant expression covered a deeper feeling of resentment and exasperation. She had the appearance of having reached her limit, and though outwardly serene was indubitably angry.

Her pretty face, ludicrous because of the indelible smears of ink, was pale and strained, and her deep brown eyes smoldered with repressed rage. For Iris Clyde was far from meek. Her nature was, first of all, a just one, and, to a degree, retaliatory, even revengeful.

"Oh, I see your eyes snapping, Iris," exclaimed her aunt, delighted at the girl's annoyance, "I'll bet you'll get even with me for this!"

"Indeed I will, Aunt Ursula," and Iris' lips set in a straight line of determination, which, in conjunction with the ink stains, sent Mrs. Pell off into further peals of hilarity.

"Be careful, Iris," cautioned Mr. Bowen, himself wary, "if you get even with your aunt, she may leave the diamond pin to me instead of to you."

"Nixie," returned Iris saucily, "you've promised that particular diamond pin to me, haven't you, Auntie?"

"I certainly have, Iris. However often I change my will, that pin is always designated as your inheritance."

"Where is it?" asked Mr. Bowen, curiously; "may I not see it?"

"It is in a box in my lawyer's safe, at this moment," replied Mrs. Pell. "Mr. Chapin has instructions to hand the box over to Iris after my departure from this life, which I suppose you'd like to expedite, eh, Iris?"

"Well, I wouldn't go so far as to poison you," Iris smiled, "but I confess I felt almost murderous when I ran up to my room just now and looked in the mirror!"

"I don't wonder!" exclaimed Mrs. Bowen, unable to stifle her feelings longer.

"Tut! tut!" cried the rector, "what talk for Christian people!"

"Oh, they don't mean it," said Mrs. Pell, "you must take our chaff in good part, Mr. Bowen."

Dinner over, the Bowens almost immediately departed, and Iris, catching sight of her disfigured face in a mirror, turned angrily to her aunt.

"I won't stand it!" she exclaimed. "This is the last time I shall let you serve me in this fashion. I'm going to New York to-morrow, and I hope I shall never see you again!"

"Now, dearie, don't be too hard on your old auntie. It was only a joke, you know. I'll get you another frock——"

"It isn't only the frock, Aunt Ursula, it's this horrid state of things generally. Why, I never dare pick up a thing, or touch a thing—without the chance of some fool stunt making trouble for me!"

"Now, now, I will try not to do it any more. But, don't talk about going away. If you do, I'll cut you out of my will entirely."

"I don't care. That would be better than living in a trick house! Look at my face! It will be days before these stains wear off! You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Aunt Ursula!"

The old lady looked roguishly penitent, like a naughty child.

"Oh, fiddle-de-dee, you can get them off with whatcha-call-it soap. But I hope you won't! They make you look like a clown in a circus!"

Mrs. Pell's laughter had that peculiarly irritating quality that belongs to practical jokers, and Iris' sensitive nature was stung to the core.

"Oh, I hate you," she cried, "you are a fiend in human shape!" and without another word she ran upstairs to her own room.

Ursula Pell looked a little chagrined, then burst into laughter at the remembrance of Iris' face as she denounced her, and then her expression suddenly changed to one of pain, and she walked slowly to her own sitting room, went in and closed the door behind her.

It was part of the Sunday afternoon routine that Mrs. Pell should go to this room directly after dinner, and it was understood that she was not to be disturbed unless callers came.

A little later, Polly was in the dining-room arranging the sideboard, when she heard Mrs. Pell's voice. It was an agonized scream, not loud, but as one greatly frightened. The woman ran through the hall and living room to the closed door of the sitting room. Then she clearly heard her mistress calling for help.

But the door was locked on the inside, and Polly could not open it.

"Help! Thieves!" came in terrified accents, and then the voice died away to a troubled groaning; only to rise in a shrill shriek of "Help! Quickly!" and then again the moans and sighs of one in agony.

Frantically Polly hurried to the kitchen and called her husband.

"One of her damfool jokes," muttered the old man, as he shuffled toward the door of the locked room. "She's locked herself in, and she wants to get us all stirred up, thinkin' she's been attacked by thugs, an' in a minute she'll be laughin' at us."

"I don't think so," said Polly, dubiously, for she well knew her mistress' ways, "them yells was too natural."

Old Purdy listened, his ear against the door. "I can hear her rustlin' about a little," he said, "an'—there, that was a faint moan—mebbe she's been took with a spell or suthin'."

"Let's get the door open, anyway," begged Polly. "If it's a joke, I'll stand for it, but I'll bet you something's happened."

"What could happen, unless she's had a stroke, an' if that's it, she wouldn't be a callin' out 'Thieves!' Didn't you say she said that?"

"Yes, as plain as day!"

"Then that proves she's foolin' us! How could there be thieves in there, an' the door locked?"

"Well, get it open. I'm plumb scared," and Polly's round face was pale with fright.

"But I can't. Do you want me to break it in? We'd get what for in earnest if I done that!"

"Run around and look in the windows," suggested Polly, "and I'm going to call Miss Iris. I jest know something's wrong, this time."

"What is it?" asked Iris, responding to the summons, "what was that noise I heard?"

"Mrs. Pell screamed out, Miss Iris, and when I went to see what was the matter, I found the door locked, and we can't get in."

"She screamed?" said Iris. "Perhaps it's just one of her jokes."

"That's what Purdy thinks, but it didn't sound so to me. It sounded like she was in mortal danger. Here's Purdy now. Well?"

"I can't see in the windows," was his retort, "the shades is all pulled down, 'count o' the sun. She always has 'em so afternoons. And you well know, nobody could get in them windows, or out of 'em."

Ursula Pell's sitting room was also her storehouse of many treasures. Collections of curios and coins left by her husband, additional objects of value, bought by herself, made the room almost a museum; and, in addition, her desk contained money and important papers. Wherefore, she had had the windows secured by a strong steel lattice work, that made ingress impossible to marauders. Two windows faced south and two west, and there was but one door, that into the living room.

This being locked, the room was inaccessible, and the drawn shades prevented even a glimpse of the interior. The windows were open, but the shades inside the steel gratings were not to be reached.

There was no sound now from the room, and the listeners stood, looking at one another, uncertain what to do next.

"Of course it's a joke," surmised Purdy, "but even so, it's our duty to get into that room. If so be's we get laughed at for our pains, it won't be anything outa the common; and if Mrs. Pell has had a stroke—or anything has happened to her, we must see about it."

"How will you get in?" asked Iris, looking frightened.

"Bust the door down," said Purdy, succinctly. "I'll have to get Campbell to help. While I'm gone after him, you try to persuade Mrs. Pell to come out—if she's just trickin' us."

The old man went off, and Polly began to speak through the closed door.

"Let us in, Mrs. Pell," she urged. "Do, now, or Purdy'll spoil this good door. Now what's the sense o' that, if you're only a foolin'? Open the door—please do—"

But no response of any sort was made. The stillness was tragic, yet there was the possibility, even the likelihood, that the tricky mistress of the house would only laugh at them when they had forced an entrance.

"Of course it's her foolishness," said Agnes, who had joined the group. She spoke in a whisper, not wanting to brave a reprimand for impertinence. "What does she care for having a new door made, if she can get us all soured up over nothing at all?"

Iris said nothing. Only a faint, almost imperceptible tinge remained of the ink stains on her face. She had used vigorous measures, and had succeeded in removing most of the disfigurement.

Campbell returned with Purdy.

"Ah, now, Mis' Pell, come out o' there," he wheedled, "do now! It's a sin and a shame to bust in this here heavy door. Likewise it ain't no easy matter nohow. I'm not sure me and Purdy can do it. Please, Missis, unlock the door and save us all a lot of trouble."

But no sound came in answer.

"Let's all be awful still," suggested Purdy, "for quite a time, an' see if she don't make some move."

Accordingly each and every one of them scarcely breathed and the silence was intense.

"I can't hear a sound," said Campbell, at last, his ear against the keyhole, which was nearly filled by its own key. "I can't hear her breathing. You sure she's in there?"

"Of course," said Polly. "Didn't I hear her screamin'? I tell you we got to get in. Joke or no joke, we got to!"

"You're right," and Campbell looked serious. "I got ears like a hawk, and I bet I'd hear her breathing if she was in there. Come on, Purdy."

The door was thick and heavy, but the lock was a simple one, not a bolt, and the efforts of the two men splintered the jamb and released the door.

The sight revealed was overwhelming. The women screamed and the men stood aghast.